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You’re probably sick of hearing about the whole Netflix/Qwikster debacle by now. As am I. So perhaps we should give the last word on the subject (for a week or at the very least) to Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph.

What The Flix?

First, a very brief overview of the situation as it stands:

Netflix has long been transitioning from a DVDs-by-mail company into a streaming video company. In July Netflix separated the two sides of its business so that you chose one or the other for $7.99, which left those who wanted both paying $6 more than they did previously.

Then came the next step of actually spinning the DVD business off and calling it Qwikster. This led to an absolute outcry from Netflix fans, suddenly having to deal with two companies rather than one for their content needs. But despite the complaints many people, myself included, could at least see the logic in the decision, and suggested that perhaps it would be the best decision for the longterm good of the company.


Randolph Remembers A Time When…

It turns out that those on the inside feel the same way, or at least the closest thing to an insider we have yet heard from. Marc Randolph founded Netflix with current CEO Reed Hastings in 1998 and retired in 2004. But not before witnessing the company making the tough decision to stop selling DVDs in order to focus on renting them out instead.

The young Netflix did this despite making 95 percent of its revenue from selling DVDs. People didn’t like the decision, but it helped focus the company towards an ultimate goal for longterm success. There are clear parallels between the decision made back then and the decision made now.

Randolph calls the decision to spin the DVD business off into a new entity called Qwikster “one of the smartest, most disciplined and bravest moves” he has ever seen. And you don’t get a much more resolute endorsement than that.

Conclusions

It’s easy to say Randolph is Hastings’ friend and was therefore always going to take this line. But I don’t think that is the case. Randolph has seen this pioneering strategy work once and clearly feels it will work again. And I happen to agree with him.

This Is How Water Really Works in India

Posted: 26 Sep 2011 08:32 AM PDT

This post was co-written by NextDrop's Jessica Tsai and Madhusudhan B.

NextDrop, which informs residents in India via cell phone about the availability of piped water, has been fortunate enough to have the full and sincere cooperation of Chandru, one of the best valvemen in Hubli. It's incredibly helpful to work with someone so willing to share the know-hows of the water system here, because the on-paper description of the process is much different than what actually goes on.

Chandru let us tag along as he opened and closed a myriad of valves in his water areas, providing service to residents who (after more than 20 years of seeing him around) know him by name. As usual, we learned much more than we expected -- and we're sharing that process of discovery because it's interesting, and even lots of fun.

A day in the life

From what we could tell, Chandru's service period starts with a call from the section officer and lasts around 48 hours. The section officer will tell Chandru that it's his turn to provide water to his residents. This call is actually pretty important, because different valvemen in Hubli take turns providing service to their areas to maintain ample water pressure -- or no one will get water. After this call, Chandru has around 40 valve areas to give water to, each with its own valve. He'll usually open valves for three or four areas at a time, and leave them on for 4-5 hours each.

As we followed Chandru on his rounds, we learned that water pressure is incredibly important for water delivery, and is one of the reasons service is provided erratically at times.

chandru.PNG

Lingaraj Nagar North, for example, is located uphill, so Chandru leaves this valve open for 7-8 hours instead of four. But, because of the pressure needed for the water to reach up the slope, residents in Lingaraj Nagar North only get 3-4 good hours of water (when some other valves have been closed). The distribution within Lingaraj Nagar North itself is also varied -- people living more uphill get less water than those living downhill near the supply. In cases like these, NextDrop can send a notification that the valve has been open, but some residents won't actually get water because of insufficient pressure.

In the opposite case when an area is located more downhill, instead of shortening the time a valve is open, Chandru will only open a valve two-thirds of the way for the same amount of time. This is also to regulate the amount of pressure so that the pipes don't burst due to excess pressure. The pipes are really old. If a customer calls Chandru to complain about lack of water, he can open the valve a little bit more or longer.

We should mention that Chandru doesn't use any fancy instruments to measure the pressure in the pipes underground. He depends on none other than the rod used to open valves -- and his ears! The valve itself is at the end of a small 2-foot deep shaft, reachable only by a rod.

The sound of water

Chandru will put his ear to the end of the rod and gauge the pressure by the sound of water rushing by. It's actually quite loud when the sound travels to the end of the rod. We got to have a listen ourselves.

lake valves.PNG

We also got a tour of the old water tank in between valves.

The tanks have supplied water to all of Hubli for 99 years. Its 100th birthday is next year. The tanks are a pair of 20-foot-deep underground structures that each have a huge valve opening at the bottom, where lake water pushes upwards. The valve openings are about the size of sewage openings in the United States.

These two wheels open the valves, which currently work to drain nearby Unkal Lake.

The goal is to reach the mud at the bottom of the lake for construction, and next monsoon season will fill the lake back up.

Along for the ride

We weren't the only ones shadowing Chandru.

Chandru's been a valveman for over 20 years now -- he's one of the best. So far, he's also only taken two sick days -- in his entire career of working for the water board. The water board makes it a point to have someone shadow Chandru for when he won't be around to run the water delivery for a huge number of people. Ravi, the water board employee who usually repairs aged pipes, was also along for the ride watching Chandru open and close valves for different areas.

There's a lot of information to be learned for this job, but no formal training program. The day-to-day details of running water deliveries often isn't known by those who aren't out in the field. A lot of information gets lost in between. Watching is the best way to learn, which is why we're trying to go out and watch the valvemen ourselves.

What we need to understand is how things currently work, so that we can make it as easy as possible for valvemen to adopt the NextDrop system. To us, it looks like organized chaos. Somehow (we're not quite sure how) progress is being made with text messages and everyday processes. But there's definitely a method to the madness, and we're just starting to understand it. Days like today grant us a lot of insight into how to move forward.

You can read about more of these efforts on our NextDrop blog.

 In seven years, the social networking site has grown from a project hatched in a college dorm to the largest social networking site in the world, well on its way to hitting its goal of having 1 billion users. In seven years, the social networking site has grown from a project hatched in a college dorm to the largest social networking site in the world, well on its way to hitting its goal of having 1 billion users.

By Jacob Schulman, Updated: Friday, September 23, 8:47 AM

When Facebook introduced the Timeline today at its f8 developer conference, I was blindsided by the introduction of a completely new Profile. Mark Zuckerberg’s emotional delivery made it clear that this is going to fundamentally change a website that most of us use for hours every single day — so there’s a lot riding on its success.

 

I’ve been exploring the new layout for some time tonight, so let me take you on a tour of Timeline, which is like an online yearbook for your life. While Timeline’s official rollout won’t take place for a few weeks, it’s possible to get early access by registering as a developer. After you go through the process and enable the beta feature, you’re presented with a warning: Facebook gives you one week to clean up your Timeline before it is visible to all your friends.

 

If you’re a long-time user there’s likely a lot of potential blackmail material that could surface, so you should take advantage of the grace period to star, hide, and delete everything you’ve accumulated over the years. That’s another important thing to mention right off the bat: Timeline will hold more meaning for those who have been using the service longer, and newer Facebook users might feel lonely at first. 

 

The top portion of the timeline is called the Cover (seen above), and has personal information on the left along with your friends, photos, and Likes. There’s a large space at the top for a lead photo, while your standard default is confined to a smaller overlapping box. It looks tight and sharp, and feels like a book cover you might flip open.  

 

Below the Cover is the heart of the Timeline: a prime meridian with in-line date markers that serves as a dock for all your “stories” — the activities you do on Facebook. While the old profile presented updates chronologically and stacked on top of each other, the new design splits it in two columns — meaning even more stuff with less scrolling. Staggered story sizes and locations make it feel authentic and spontaneous, while large photo previews are inviting as well as click- and touch-friendly. Of course, the Timeline doesn’t show everything you’ve ever done on Facebook, but in my brief testing it did a nice job of summarizing my past.

 

For example, when I clicked on 2008 I was presented with the status update from when I got accepted to Penn, updates from when I first started at Engadget, and memorable photos from that year. 2007 was filled with even more photos from a summer trip, event history, and the reminder that I made 208 friends (go me!). I haven’t begun drilling down on a month-by-month basis yet, but it’s sure to get nostalgic. That’s the thing about the Timeline — you’ll just keep scrolling. That’s why there will likely be a built-in grace period for users to get acclimated, because the initial backlash is sure to be thunderous.

 

I already spend way too much time on Facebook, and have a suspicion that as my friends publish their own Timelines, I will be spending even more. I also have a suspicion that “Facebook Stalking” will be more popular than ever, since it cuts out the boring, meaningless updates automatically. The current week-long adjustment period for developers may not be long enough for many long-time users to get through everything with a fine-toothed comb, and they may regret not doing so early on.

 

Another slightly unsettling part of the Timeline is its Activity Log. Accessed by hitting the large “view activity” button on the Cover, this is where every single thing you do on Facebook is saved and recorded. It kind of resembles the old profile, and keeps the recently-added inline privacy controls for each story. I do think Facebook could be a bit more up-front in their display; some sort of indicator for content that’s public or private would be more transparent than hiding it in a drop-down menu. You can still delete posts individually, but it’s slightly scary to think about how many entries will be made to this log every single time you sign on.

 

This is just a short walkthrough of Facebook’s Timeline, and I didn’t even touch upon the new Social Apps that hook into it. Facebook is clearly putting the framework in place to become your ultimate online hub, and it’s looking to personalize it and socialize it to keep you from going anywhere else. Only time will tell whether the Timeline will be a hit with users, but our online lives are about to change and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.  

 

This article originally appeared on thisismynext.com: Facebook Timeline preview and photos: a personal tour .


YouTube Adds Magisto To Video Toolbox | Automatic Video Editor Enters The Bigtime

Posted: 23 Sep 2011 03:07 PM PDT

Two things are probably key for any tech startup looking to make it beyond the first year: funding, and a partner willing and able to push you into the mainstream. Magisto already has both, despite having been up and running for just a few months, most of it in a closed beta.

Magisto Magic

Magisto is a online video editor unlike any other. Because although there are many already out there that offer a range of tools designed to make the user’s experience as simple as possible, Magisto goes one stage further and does everything automatically.

We covered Magisto in some depth just a few days ago on the news that it was launching to the general public after five months in a closed beta. Helping the Israeli-based company along the way was Li Ka-Shing, who put part of the $5.5 million up that represents Series B funding.

But Magisto had potentially bigger news under its belt.


Magisto On YouTube

The Magisto video editing tool is now available directly through YouTube, with the Google-owned company having added its automagic editor to its Create page. We covered this new effort to get more people than ever to create videos in March, when I even had a go at creating my own animation using GoAnimate.

Magisto has been added to a section of the site designed for absolute beginners, and is therefore totally separate from the new in-built YouTube editor which went live earlier this month.

In effect, YouTube users now have a full range of options open to them when uploading a video. They can manually or automatically edit videos, or they can create from scratch using the tools available on the Create page.

Conclusions

These kind of partnerships are good for all involved. YouTube gets a new tool for its users to play with, Magisto gets exposure and a chance to offer users paid features, and users of the online video site get a new weapon in their arsenal to create compelling videos.

[Via TechCrunch]


Automatic video editor Magisto is now open to the public. A public which is taking more video footage than ever thanks to smartphones, but which has less time than ever to edit them before posting to the Web. These guys could be onto something.

Magisto Begins

How often have you shot hours of video and promised yourself that one day soon you’ll find the time to edit it down to the bare essentials, deleting all the parts that don’t matter, that you didn’t look right, that won’t need keeping for your grandkids to look at?

Magisto is hoping that lots of you out there answered with a resounding chorus of, “I do it all the time!” Because anyone that did is a potential customer for the Web application which automatically (perhaps automagically is more fitting) edits your videos.


Magisto Booms

Magisto is an Israeli startup previously funded by Magma Venture Partners. Magma has now reinvested alongside Horizons Ventures, the investment firm of Li Ka-Shing, currently the 11th richest person in the world. Total Series B funding has come in at $5.5 million.

The company has been in closed beta since April, with 20,000 users creating 40,000. Magisto is now open to the public and employing a freemium business plan which adds extra features such as HD video and removing the Magisto branding.

Automatic Video Editing

Magisto effectively takes the video or multiple video clips you upload to its servers, analyzes the content using all manner of different techniques that are beyond the understanding of us mere mortals, and edits the footage down into short movies.

The only user input is to choose a title and a piece of music to act as the soundtrack. The finished film will have a range of effects, including transitions, wipes, and split-screens.

Conclusions

There are existing alternatives already out there – MuVee, Animoto, WeVideo – but Magisto appears to have simplified things beyond all recognition of what any other company has achieved.

This may mean not all the clips automatically edited by the software come out as predicted, but most people will likely be happy with the results.